Khelo India Para Games: How Girija Madhu is giving children with cerebral palsy a life of joy
Girija Madhu has through football dedicated her life and savings to children suffering from cerebral palsy
One has to fight their own battles, they say. However, it is rare that one individual’s kindness and unflinching support could transform the lives of hundreds of children suffering from Cerebral Palsy (CP). These children are really ‘special’ because they know how to rise against the odds in a society that disowns and discriminates them.
The inaugural Khelo India Para Games 2023 underway in Delhi have not only exposed more than 1400 athletes with special abilities but brought to light people who work tirelessly behind the scenes and far away from media spotlight to bring a smile on young boys and girls who suffer from cerebral palsy. Girija Kumari Madhu, a very unique person in the Cerebral Palsy Sports Federation of India (CPSFI) ecosystem, is one of them.
CP is a dreaded neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood, permanently affecting body movement and muscle coordination, generally due to abnormalities inside the developing brain. There is no proper data on the number of people suffering from CP in India but Kavita Suresh, the general secretary of CPSFI, says the “number can be more than a crore.”
Girija, a normal housewife, resolved three years back to help CP children regain their identity and have the requisite skills to earn their livelihood on their own terms. She decided to dedicate her entire life and savings for the betterment of these special kids. Today, it is showing results.
“Three years ago during a meeting with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) I got to know about Cerebral Palsy football. I was involved in playing football as a normal kid since I was 14 and from my experience I felt that football is a wonderful tool to transform a normal person. Today, I am very happy that these kids, who couldn’t even walk properly, are running around and playing football so well and winning tournaments,” said Girija.
“The conditions of these kids are really horrible. Their parents lock these kids in one room and do not let them come out or meet other people due to fear of embarrassment. They do not receive proper education. I thought if my kids weren’t normal then I would have also quietly suffered along with them. So, I told myself I have to do something about it.”
The 49-year-old Girija, who doubles up as the manager, was delighted to see Kerala score 21 goals without reply against Punjab in their opening Khelo India Para Games group match at the JLN campus on Thursday. On Friday, Kerala thumped Jharkhand by an identical margin (21-0).
Having won four national tournaments since they started competing in 2022, Kerala are favourites to win the gold at Khelo India Para Games 2023, with 23-year-old skipper Sijo George brilliantly holding centre stage in a team that has been playing an intelligent short-passing game to outwit opponents.
Girija floated the Cerebral Palsy Football Association of Kerala (CPSAK) three years back and identified kids in her native town of Alappuzha to begin playing football. However, the association didn’t receive recognition from the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC). It meant there was no financial support.
“She is a very special and unique woman. Someone with zero funding can do so much is absolutely amazing. Her grit and determination inspires us as a national federation,” said Kavita.
However, the strong-minded mother of two didn’t give up and even went on to mortgage her gold ornaments to meet training and food expenses of the 20 CP kids. A graduate from the FIFA-CIES international programme in sports management, exclusively offered in the South Asia region by Pillai Institute in Navi Mumbai, Girija established the Amogha Foundation realising the need to upskill these kids.
“We are upskilling them. We are training them in data analytics, graphic designing, and fine arts. They can do many things. After three months training we are identifying their area of skills. Everyone has separate skills. First time we are doing that. We have professionals from the foundation to identify each kids’ talent. So, this will help them earn their own living with prestige and respect. If we receive better financial support, the sky's the limit,” she said.
After the foundation’s story and the plight of the CP kids was highlighted by a local newspaper, Buimerc Foundation came to the rescue. They decided to fund the training and travel expenses of the Kerala team members. Ernakulam-based Oorjja Foundation has pledged their support in getting placements for these special kids.
“The Khelo India Para Games have been a great opportunity. These Games are the right catalyst to foster a sports revolution. The Sports Authority of India has been very supportive and to see our team travel to Delhi and play with so many other special athletes is a dream come true. We are counting on support from Kerala so that we can bring more joy to people suffering from CP,” said Girija.